Catalunya’s struggle shows us once again dialogue is dead

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Yesterday, I’ve left my gym around 8pm and wandered down Placa de Catalunya to watch people gather in support of Catalunya’s independence.

This is the second year I’ve been here for the Catalunya “vote” to break away from Spain. I was also in Europe for Brexit. And I’ve been back to the US in between then for a year to watch Donald Trump be elected.

I’ve been inadvertently following a wave of radical change.

The first time I witnessed the vote, it was more of a cultural symbolism and pride rally than anything. I don’t think there was much of an expectation for the masses as there was a sense of community retained in the process and celebration around it. What I saw last year was a peaceful cultural celebration while also an exercise of give right. No qualms there.

But this year was different.

And it’s right in line with other world events over the last year.

The buzzwords “equality”, “democracy”, and “dialogue” have all weakened in meaning significantly.

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My favorite image. A Catalan policeman breaks down protecting a crowd of voters.

Here’s a bit of very simplified backstory on the Catalan situation for those who don’t quite understand:

  • Catalunya was forcibly brought into Spain in the year 1714.

  • During the Franco era which ended in 1975, the Catalan language was completely banned and many Catalan monuments and cultural symbols were removed.
  • They retain their own government, official language, police force, schools, and public institutions.
  • Catalunya makes up over 1/5th of Spain’s GDP and accounts for 20% of Spain’s tax revenue, but just 14% in public expenses.
  • This year Spain placed the highest funding cuts on Catalunya.

Though there are solid arguments for both sides. The struggle of independence especially within a body like the EU is ugly by nature. Those who truly want independence would have to be prepared to truly live it.

But there is no doubt that reform for Catalunya needed to be spoken about.

The argument about whether Catalunya can handle independence by itself without the EU or not is no longer the focus. Now, it’s about really calling into question what “dialogue” really means.

It’s no longer about “Well what would they do if ___ or ____ when they’re independent”, it’s about the right to speak.

Catalunya has been talking:

Catalunya floated the idea of tax reform to where they would be able to manage their taxes on their own like Basque country in Spain, who is also half in, half out. Mind you, the Basque have taken a much more violent approach in the past.

Spain denied.

Catalunya decided to go through with the vote in peaceful protest.

Spain declared it illegal.

Catalunya’s self-governing body declared it their right and manifested in a clear and pacifist display of democracy.

Spain sent in the militarized police.

 Some protesters held flowers (not guns or torches, god damn flowers).

Some protesters held flowers (not guns or torches, god damn flowers).

In a couple of hours, Spain shut the door on dialogue and the whole world heard it slam. The minute the images surfaced from the voting polls yesterday, the conversation changed. It’s no longer a question of “if” independence or major reform will happen in some sense, but “when”.

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Spain proved yesterday that democracy is wishful thinking and a useless buzzword rather than constructive conversation. There is nothing like human rights violation to show true intention.

If they get violent when you try to speak in peace about fair change, they are exploiting you. The people of any nation or cultural group within a nation that has sought change knows this.

Black America. Venezuela. The nations of Africa. Young America.

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Rule #1 of control is to not draw attention. I hate to say this, but it’s actually to the benefit of Catalunya that Spain took it too far and broke act just enough.

Memories of Franco rang out yesterday. I saw the older generation on the streets watching the Prime Minister’s speech on a large screen in Placa de Catalunya with the same disdain.

They know all too well what Fascism looks like and now the whole world has been shown that (once again) freedom, conversation, and equality is never as pretty as “democracy” promises.

 A photo taken by my Catalan friend of a protest in Barcelona yesterday.

A photo taken by my Catalan friend of a protest in Barcelona yesterday.

Sophia Ellis